While outside appearances make it easy to see how one human differs from the next, it’s not always as simple to see the ways each of us may vary internally. In order to bring awareness to these kinds of differences, the U.S. designated April as Autism Awareness Month, with the aim of promoting acceptance and celebrating the unique talents of those with Autism.
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects the way someone communicates and interacts with others, but many of those with the syndrome have other extraordinary abilities in subjects like music, visualization and academics. Approximately 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism, so it’s important to teach your little ones about this condition, too, and what it may be like to be friends with someone affected by it.
While autism affects each diagnosed person differently, there are common characteristics to be mindful of that will help create a mutual understanding.
Someone with autism may…
- …get easily overloaded with too much information. Be patient, don’t judge, and calmly ask them if they’re okay or need anything.
- …suffer from social anxiety. Be sure to invite them to hang out or participate in social events often, even though they may not always accept.
- …have difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation and they may need more time to respond than you’re used to. Keep in mind that this has no bearing on their interest in talking to you or being your friend. Try to rephrase or write down what you’re talking about to help them.
- …become overwhelmed by unexpected change. It’s important to let them know as far in advance as possible when a part of their routine will be altered or if plans you’ve made have changed.
Educating your children about autism is as easy as turning to a tried and trusted partner in development, “Sesame Street.” Last year, an autistic character named Julia joined the crew, and in her very first episode, Big Bird talks about what it’s like to have a friend on the spectrum. Julia is excellent at showing kids firsthand what may make them different, but why they fit in. You can find the 10-minute episode for free on YouTube.